Boston Harbor Past Projects

These past projects detail some of our earlier work in the Boston Harbor, including helping to create an outdoor classroom at the nearby Mather Elementary School,  planning for restoration at the Old Harbor site on the campus border, and a student vision for the UMass Master Plan.

Green Roofs

Project Leader: Steven Von Fleck

Green roofs can help protect the harbor both by retaining rain water and by reducing energy use for heating and cooling.   Undergraduate student Steven Von Fleck shares his insights on their history and current use - and some fabulous photographs - in this independent research project.

Outdoor Classroom at the Mather Elementary School

Original Schoolyard Initiative Proposal  
Current Mather Schoolyard Proposed Design

Mather Elementary School (K-5), the first public elementary school in the USA (1635), has  the most beautiful ‘top of the Hill’ position overlooking Dorchester Bay and Boston Harbor.

The schoolyard project will strengthen the collaboration between families, local community partners and neighbors, and prove that vision and hard work make changes.

In order to recognize the complexity of our community from all over the world, we count on volunteers to contribute good planting strategies and demonstrate traditional small farming practices from their countries in the designated part of the future school yard landscape. An important part of the project is to select indigenousplants and  trees of the Dorchester area, and the Dorchester Historical Society members will serve as horticultural consultants to help
in this task. 

Our community partner, Dr. Anamarija Frankic, has presented the possibility of creating a ‘LivingLab classroom’ as part of the school yard landscape that will present the connection between the school environment and the nearby coastal environments (Malibu Beach and Dorchester Bay). This outdoor classroom will be a small educational site for kids to learn about the relationship between the people and the watershed where we live. This approach will not only beautify the landscaping of the school yard, but also teach children why to choose certain plants and trees, where to plant them, and the importance of water and the ocean in our lives.

Old Harbor Restoration

Project lead: Mike Riccio (MS 2011)

Salt marsh and eelgrass habitats provide important ecological services such as filtering water, increasing nutrient cycling, providing habitats, and improving the trophic structure. These ecosystems and their services are typically overlooked in urban settings or are impaired due to coastal development. We propose to restore these habitats on an approximately two-acre site on Old Harbor at the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMass Boston). 

Download Mike Riccio MS thesis

Download draft proposal

Goals of the project include minimizing erosion, mitigating degraded coastal ecosystems in Boston Harbor, developing a protocol for biomimicry-based habitat restoration, repopulating native shellfish, and restoring connectivity between salt marsh and eelgrass habitats. The project will have positive environmental impacts by reopening the hydraulic connection between the salt marsh/pond/channel and ocean, thus providing diurnal flushing, as well as by establishing natural buffers with mudflats, eelgrass, and salt marsh vegetation. Additionally, restoring eelgrass beds and oyster reefs will help to stabilize sediment, and increase biodiversity.  We are using the biomimicry-based habitat restoration approach to contribute to adaptation and mitigation responses to global climate change, sea level rise, and water inundation.

Presently this area—between an old wastewater pump house and Old Harbor—experiences severe erosion and subsidence. As part of the Boston HarborWalk, this area presents a danger for pedestrians. We propose that this particular section of the HarborWalk be supported by a raised wooden walkway, weaving around the restored salt marsh. This site would become the first “living lab” on campus, allowing students, community members, and researchers to have hands-on experiences in these ecosystems; this would include conducting short-term research and long-term monitoring on the re-establishment of salt marsh and eelgrass habitats, their associated communities, and related environmental parameters. This project’s vision of biomimicry-based habitat restoration is one example of learning how to solve our current environmental issues by ensuring that human systems function more like the natural world.

UMass Master Plan - Student Vision

Project Leaders:

Grant Emde
Anna Hines
Jaqueline Spade
Ekatherina Wagenknecht

Students from Anamarija Frankic's Coastal Zone Management class developed a comprehensive vision for a sustainable UMass Boston harbor campus, including LEED certified building materials, green roofs, landscaping, energy conservation and production.  They have presented their vision in a variety of venues, including to fellow undergraduate and graduate students, the Master Plan Steering Committee, and the architects of the campus master plan. 

Download students' vision here

Urban Harbor Salt Marsh Restoration

Project leader Timothy Maguire (M.S. 2012)

Development of a Salt Marsh Restoration Site Selection Method for Urban Harbors

My assertion is that currentsalt marsh restoration is focused on large tidal flow restoration projects.  Tidal flow restoration projects are generally projects where a physical barrier to the sea is removed changing the salinity of a freshwater embayment.  These projects are the primary means of restoration because they have a high “bang for the buck.”  These projects have a high return on investment in terms of monetary investment to acreage restored. 

In urban harbors the mainstream salt marsh restoration focus on tidal flow restoration is not a valid paradigm.  Urban harbors such as Boston cannot be truly “restored” to their original salt marsh as a majority of the current Boston coast line is artificial.  The anthropomorphic coast has been created by filling in bays, estuaries, and low lying areas that surrounded Boston’s original skinny peninsula.  Additionally, the current coast is mostly developed all the way to the upland edge of the intertidal systems which, eliminates the possibility of undeveloped freshwater systems existing that require reintegration with the sea.  I propose that while urban harbors do not fit into the normal assumptions of salt marsh restoration they are none the less important and deserving of revitalization.

For my thesis research I:

·         Interviewed salt marsh restoration professionals to confirm that the “bang for the buck” paradigm asserted above is accurate

·         Identified possible sites for urban harbor salt marsh enhancement in Boston

·         Reviewed archival information on these possible sites and develop a comprehensive site model

·         Took physical measurements of publicly accessible sites for slope, salinity, pH, and current salt marsh coverage

Based on the results a proposed four step unique method was developed and discussed.

Water-Energy Nexus

Project Leader: Seth Sheldon  (PhD 2012)

A Model to Relate Environmental Variation to NPDES Permit Violations at Thermoelectric Facilities on the Taunton River


Large thermoelectric facilities are issued permits to discharge high volume, high temperature effluents as part of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). Once-through cooled power plants are especially dependent on large quantities of cool water to operate. When ambient temperatures are high or streamflow is very low, power plant managers must reduce (i.e., "dial back") energy generation in order to avoid violating their NPDES permit limitations. Sudden dial-back can have human health impacts when electricity is no longer available to provide cooling or other vital services. A superior system of electricity and environmental management would reduce the probability of future violations and/or dial-back by explicitly recognizing the facilities for which those events are highly likely. An original statistical model is presented and used to answer the following research questions: 1) Do electricity demand and natural environmental conditions influence withdrawal rates and effluent temperatures at once-through thermoelectric facilities? 2) Is it possible to estimate past withdrawal rates and effluent temperatures where reported observations are unavailable? 3) In the future, how often will power plant managers face the decision to dial-back generation or violate their plant's discharge permit? 5) What can be done to avoid such decisions and the resulting negative impacts? Two facilities in Massachusetts were chosen as representative case studies. Using public records, several decades of daily and monthly observations of environmental variables (e.g. ambient air temperature, streamflow) and monthly energy generation were tested against monthly observations of facility water withdrawal rates and maximum discharge temperatures using a multiple linear regression (MLR) approach. The MLR model successfully estimated monthly maximum discharge temperatures for both facilities using monthly average of daily high air temperatures and monthly net electricity generation. The model was used to identify months in the past when violations or dial-back are likely to have occurred, as well as months in the future when each plant is expected to dial-back or violate its permit as ambient air temperatures continue to rise. Solutions are presented that reduce the number of predicted violations, meet consumer electricity demand to the greatest extent possible, and reduce the chances of sudden dial-back.


Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA), Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER), Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (CEC), Massachusetts Geographic Information System (MassGIS), University of Massachusetts Boston GIS (UMass GIS), University of Massachusetts Boston Venture Development Center (UMass VDC)

Relevant Legislative Mandates:

Energy Policy Act of 2005 (§127, 170E, 902, 911, 971, 979)
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Title IV)
Proposed American Clean Energy and Security Bill (§213, 242, 701(a)1.3F-H, 705(c)4B, 422(b)4, 464(b)1C)
Massachusetts Green Jobs Act (§2(a) iii,vi,x,xi)
Massachusetts Green Communities Act (§7, 11, 32)
Massachusetts Energy Bill (§2, 11, 23, 32, 89, 108, 116)
Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act (§2(c-f), (h), 4(b)3, 9C(b),

Water Quality/Marine Invasive Species

Project Lead: Chris McIntyre (M.S. 2012)

The Fouling Community of Boston Harbor: An Assessment of Marine Invasive Species, Water Quality and Biodiversity
Marine invasive species represent a major portion of the Boston Harbor fouling community, causing significant environmental and economic impacts. Characterized by tolerance to pollution and aggressive colonization, these invaders pose potential threats to native species through competition for resources and possibly predation.  Invasive species cause drastic alterations to ecosystems and communities and are considered by many biologists to be one of the most significant threats to local and global biodiversity.

Attempts to control biological invasions in the marine environment have been unsuccessful. Recent studies have linked increased invasibility to factors ranging from introduced artificial substrate, urban development, water pollution and depressed native biodiversity. My project supported the efforts of the Green Boston Harbor Project (GBHP) to monitor invasive species in Boston Harbor. The goal of the project was to expand the current understanding of marine invasive species tolerance to variations in water quality parameters and to improve efforts to prevent and control further introductions.

Four project sites were used to study variations in water quality and invasive species using settlement plates in an effort to demonstrate that water quality variations within a single commercial port will result in consistent differences in diversity and abundance of marine invasive macroinvertebrates with local fouling communities. Aluminum fouling plates were installed on floating docks at four selected study sites within Boston Harbor; each site displayed varying degrees of ecological impairment based on nutrient levels, bacteria counts, physical parameters including dissolved oxygen, temperature, salinity and pH as well as anthropogenic disturbances including the total area of floating dock area (m2) within a 300 meter radius of the study site and the estimated number of vessels visiting the site per day. At each site, fouling plates deployed at 1 and 2 meters were used to assess larval recruitment rates every two weeks. Photographs were during site visits for assessment of percent coverage overtime. Biomass samples were taken at the end of study period in late September. Biodiversity of each site was calculated using data collected in each of three assessment methods.

Canonical Correspondence Analysis (CCA) was the statistical method used to analyze the data and further the understanding of species relationships to environmental factors. The results suggest there is a strong correlation among the presence of the invasive species studied with nutrients, turbidity and anthropogenic disturbances.